Now more than ever, the media is abuzz with the threat of an environmental catastrophe resulting from climate change or plastic pollution, to name a few. And for good reason. With about 7 billion people on the planet, it’s no wonder that the environment is feeling the effects.
Never has there been a more relevant moment to pay attention to the little choices we make every day that can affect the environment. And in this day and age, there is no reason why living an eco-conscious lifestyle has to stop when you leave the threshold of your doorstep and enter into the great beyond.
Travel is often associated with over-indulgence and excess, and it is easy to understand why. Nobody can deny that travelling can be taxing on the environment. However, this doesn’t have to be the case if you want to tread lightly on the planet and take responsibility for the footprint you make while you are on your sojourn abroad.
For some, to be an intrepid traveller in the 21st century also means taking responsibility for the contribution you make to the environment and the community you are visiting. Here is what you can do while in South Africa to achieve just that.
If you are staying at self-catering accommodation where you need to provide your own meals, you will need to go shopping. There are a number of supermarkets you can choose from, that vary in size and range of stock, as well as the commitment to sustainability. Woolworths sells some organic food and ethically sourced products if you are not concerned about price. If you hunt around or explore beyond the proverbial city walls, you may find a farm stall or ‘padstal’, or where you can get fresh produce.
Plastic bags are a major source of plastic pollution in the oceans. In South Africa, shoppers are usually charged a small fee for plastic bags at check-out. However, the introduction of this surcharge has not made a significant difference in the quantity of bags that are distributed every year. You can easily avoid supporting the use of plastic bags and contributing to landfill by taking your own fabric bags – this is becoming an increasingly popular and easy way for both locals and tourists to take responsibility for their waste. If this is not an option, Checkers sells partially recycled bags plastic at the check-out counter.
Many supermarkets have meat, fish and fresh produce delis where you can help yourself to the number of items that you want. The norm is for people to use the single-use bags provided to weigh their produce, but you can take your own light fabric bag or more durable plastic bag to collect and weigh your shopping. This can be slightly more expensive but can save a tremendous amount of plastic.
Non-essential single-use plastic such as straws and coffee cup covers can be avoided by simply choosing not to use them. There are a few restaurants that are making an effort to reduce plastic pollution by only providing plastic straws on request. One of these restaurants is ‘Kuwai’. You can take your own bamboo straws, and even your own cutlery and containers if you want to get a takeaway. Take your own glass water bottle and travel mug instead of buying disposable coffee cups and water bottles.
When you do your shopping, supporting local business can help support the local community and save on energy used for transport. South Africa has a wealth of small businesses. If you want to do souvenir shopping, you won’t be disappointed if you visit one of the many food or craft markets where you will find a plethora of hand-made goods.
Accommodation in South Africa
Irrespective of where you are staying in South Africa, there is a range of accommodation options to suit your budget. And for the eco-conscious travellers, there are more than a few guesthouses, backpackers and bed and breakfasts in South Africa that try to provide sustainable accommodation.
For those interested in learning about sustainable living and in exchanging work for accommodation, there is the option of joining WWOOF which is an organization that aims to connect volunteers and organic farms.
Saving water in South Africa
No matter where you stay, you can do your bit by cutting down on water consumption. Although this should be done everywhere, it is an essential part of any travellers lifestyle who is visiting drought-stricken areas in the country. You can do this by showering instead of bathing, flushing the toilet less often and making sure the taps are switched off while you are brushing your teeth.
Travelling and transport in South Africa
Many international and local airlines offer a generous allowance for baggage, but it is not necessary to use the full allowance. Reducing the amount of baggage you take has a direct impact on carbon emissions, so travel light.
You don’t have to pay for car hire to get around in South Africa, especially in big cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town. While it is possible to use UBER and other taxi services in these cities, it is also possible (and less harmful to the environment) to rely on the bus and train systems that are operational in some parts of these cities. This will minimize your carbon emissions and cut costs.
Other ways you can help
As is the case in many other countries, it is possible to recycle in South Africa. Some local municipalities provide recycling services which you can use by separating your trash into compost, paper, plastic, glass and metal. In some cities private companies allow individuals to drop off their recycling and sometimes offer payment in return.
There is a growing community of environmental activists in South Africa. International organizations like Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd have a strong presence and occasionally have events that you can get involved in. Greenpop is a local initiative that focuses mainly on the planting of trees in South Africa and further afield. There are also regular beach and river cleanups at a number of different locations. You can find more information about these events online.
If you want to know that your choice to travel is not harming the environment, it’s the little choices that can make your travel experience more rewarding, meaningful and sustainable.